Before you decide to spend fifteen minutes of your valuable time reading this article, I am not a professional career coach or career counselor for full disclosure. Still, I speak from experience, and I have done a lot of the heavy lifting for you. I am in what is aptly (albeit gently) termed "transition." I learned that term on a Networking Call when another participant suggested he was "in transition," which means in between jobs.
If you find yourself in this situation, and the global pandemic has dumped many of us in this boat, I have gleaned information through myriad interactions, discussions, and research that may hold value for you. If a single piece of content in this article causes you to pause and reconsider how you approach your future and how you strategically work to tackle your goals, then it will have been worth your while.
So, pry that TicTok away from your skull for a quarter of an hour, and let's hit it hard.
2020 - The Year We Hope to Soon Forget
I recall heading into this year like a proverbial bull in a china shop. I was prepared for a fantastic and productive 2020. I even stood on my soapbox and wrote an article discussing the goals I would endeavor to accomplish during the year - 2020 Goals and Strategic Execution. It was a sound plan until it was not. Ultimately 2020 has proven to be a challenging year on several fronts.1
Periodically I write articles where I effectively preach to myself. They serve as reminders and subtle encouragement to ensure I continue to follow my plans. Most of the time, I can set a schedule and follow it steadfastly. Still, there are other times, thankfully not too frequently, where I fail to execute for inexplicable reasons. As with the article on goals and strategic execution, I hope to share some of my thoughts on how to handle a difficult situation. Outside factors have subverted your working role, and you search for the next appropriate opportunity.1
As with other goals and significant life changes, there are no quick fixes or magic bullets. The only effective way to achieve the goal of finding the next opportunity is continued and strict adherence to a plan.
In a situation where you have involuntarily left a work position, even if you were part of a broader pandemic-induced layoff (reduction in force), you may be second-guessing yourself. I have found that specific questions haunt me, and I wonder if I could have done something differently (e.g., Could I have done a better job managing upward? Was I doing everything possible to maximize my value in the role? Should I have tried to expand my purview? Why didn't I participate in more continuing education?).
When you are unemployed, it is easy to second guess yourself. Try not to dwell on the questions. If you feel you erred, it is in the past. Making mistakes is the best teacher, provided you learn from them. Avoid repeating them—but get over them.
Like an excellent defensive back in football, you need to have a short memory. On a given play, even if you get beaten, the game goes on.
My strategy has been to employ, what I term, a surgical approach in finding the next appropriate opportunity. I have avoided machine-gunning my resume to every opening across the board. I am in a fortunate situation and can afford to take time and be more selective. I know some of you may not have that luxury, and that is fine. This article's content applies to many situations.
Throughout this article, I will refer to my process as "a job search," but that is a dramatic oversimplification. On a deeper level, I am pondering how to spend the next decade (or decades) of my life. This kind of decision is personal in nature. I will expound on the soul-searching aspect below but let us call it a job search for the sake of simplicity.
"Before you do anything in your job search, write your resume, craft your LinkedIn profile, send emails out to former colleagues: You have to be clear on who you are, the value you bring to an organization, who hires people like you, and your long-term vision."2
Get to the root of your reasons.
I believe maintaining a routine during any challenging time is particularly important. Not only is a daily routine a key to maximizing productivity, but it is also critical to maintaining sanity. So, I recommend you treat the weekdays as though you are working on a tight schedule (i.e., wake up at the same time every day, ensure you are current with relevant news, schedule your most important "To-Do’s," take a break for exercise, and try and get outside for short periods).
Do not forget to breathe.
If you are able, try and find a secluded space to work where distractions will be minimal. This is the ideal situation, but do not stress if it is not possible. I have studied for exams in my car on the side of the road. It can be done.
Ideally, the daily routine should become a habit. In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear refers to habits as the compound interest of self-improvement. Initially, small changes appear to make little difference, but the results compound over time.3
“The more you ritualize the beginning of a process, the more likely it becomes that you can slip into the state of deep focus that is required to do great things ... You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist.”3
Exercise (And Other Health Must-Haves)
Given the target audience for this article are consumers of elitefts’ content and equipment, the importance of keeping up with exercise should go without saying. If you are stressed because of the uncertain times and a lack of control over the environment, ensuring your body gets the exercise it requires to function properly is something well within your control. Be sure to keep up with the exercise. Health benefits aside, exercise is my own form of meditation. I have been supplementing resistance training in the garage gym with a long daily walk.
I have also found that if I complete a long walk in the morning before commencing with the "work" part of the day, I feel a certain sense of accomplishment. I know that if the remainder of the day goes totally sideways, I have still completed a worthwhile task for the soundness of body and mind.
In her article, "How to carve out 'me time' when work never seems to end," time management expert Elizabeth Grace Saunders also discusses the need to prioritize health. In addition to exercise, you should ensure you are getting enough sleep and drinking enough water to keep well-hydrated.4
A simple suggestion—for every 20 minutes you sit doing job campaign activities, on the phone, etc., take 20-40 steps to get the circulation going again. Inside, outside it does not matter—just get up and move to revitalize yourself. Whatever works best for you.
Soul Searching (Finding Your Ikigai)
The pandemic has led me to evaluate my work life and my work in general. Some of you may seek a better balance of skills intersecting with your personal interests and purpose. You may be seeking a new situation where what you do for a living becomes more connected to who you are.5
Natalie Karen Fike, the founder of Vocatus Collaborative LLC, introduced me to the Japanese concept of ikigai. Please do not ask me to pronounce it - ikigai (ee-kee-ga-ee). If hygge is the art of doing nothing, ikigai is the art of doing something. It is a reason for being. It is the answer to a meaningful and purposeful life, or perhaps put more plainly, the reason to get up in the morning or jump out of bed.5,6
Ikigai is the meeting of what you can be paid for, what you are good at, what you love, and what the world needs.5
When working with clients, Natalie discusses layers of skills, interests, and values as building blocks. Skills provide the foundation that makes it possible to secure paying jobs. When combined with an individual's interests, the job opportunities evolve into a career. As we grow in life and work, the alignment of our sense of meaning and purpose with how we spend our time becomes an increasingly important consideration for most. The addition of value set to career planning supports the exploration of vocational identity.5
What will your legacy be?
Are you prepared to make a change? What will that change entail?
At this stage in your life, what will create an optimal blend of fulfillment and challenge?
These are questions only you can answer.
Focusing on meaning and purpose in one's career is not necessary to begin or continue to work. Simply put, you can assess what you do well and then secure an opportunity that requires those skills. You can have an enjoyable profession while reserving "passions" for the realm of hobbies. That said, when skills, interest, and meaning intersect in work (paid or unpaid), what you do becomes connected to who you are. 5
Ikigai blends the necessary consideration of the job market. Career choice involves more than hard work by the individual. We should allow room for serendipity and recognize that choice is a privilege. 5
The key to successfully achieving any goal is to consistently adhere to your plan. Sometimes this can be an easy endeavor, and you can ride the waves of momentum. It can sometimes be an uphill struggle. Maintaining the discipline to stay the course can be exhausting and require a herculean effort. Comparable to resistance training, or any other challenging endeavor, you will need to focus on both time management and attention management to succeed in your job search endeavors.1,7
I maintain lists to manage my day. They detail the prioritized tasks I need to complete each day. I utilize separate “To Do” lists for my personal and professional tasks. Andy Frisella, the creator of the 75HARD program, calls his list “the Power List.” Andy’s Power List contains the five critical tasks he needs to accomplish each day, no matter what. I like Andy’s concept, and although I do not definitively restrict to five tasks, I try and keep the day’s list manageable, but formidable.8
I have been using prioritized lists since the early 1990s, with Franklin Covey Planners and Covey’s systems of prioritization and time management.
I use the following system for prioritizing personal and professional tasks: an ABC prioritization (“A” signifying the most critical tasks and “C” signifying the least significant). I draw a checkbox next to each task and check the box upon completion, while a dot in a box denotes the task is in progress but not yet complete.1
Assemble your Personal Network, Then Harvest It!
Take some time to brainstorm and assemble your personal network. Consider all your prior work engagements, both internal and external clients. Ask yourself the following questions: Who do I know? Who (in your personal network) will vouch for you? Who are super connectors that would be willing to introduce you to decision-makers? Who would hold you accountable and encourage your search efforts in a positive way?2
Who you know—or your network—is often one of the most powerful equalizers in any career search. Having the right skills and requirements is essential. Still, with the proper introduction, you can move from being another name on a resume to getting a personal introduction to the hiring manager.2
Who hires people like you for the roles you are interested in? What companies are doing great work in the industry?2
Concurrently, create a list of 15 to 30 target organizations. The people in your network will want to provide help and support—help them do so by providing them as much guidance as possible. Share your list of target organizations with them. You may be surprised at the number of accessible ties to the target companies.5
I am a spreadsheet and notes guy. I view my current employment situation as a project that requires close and diligent management. I immediately created a spreadsheet to track my network, communications with my network, contact information, and target follow-up dates. My spreadsheet is named "2020 Career Transition_Main" - that might have been an optimistic title.
With the holidays coming, I can see a "2021 Career Transition_Main" in my near future. Oh well, I will roll with the punches.
Once you have your networking list assembled, work it hard. There may be a tendency to hide—some sense of embarrassment—and you do not want anyone to know that you are out of work, but there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Your situation is part of the usual ebb and flow of the job market.
I utilize emails, texts, and calls. I calendar appointments for follow-up discussions on the market, the economy, and to discuss potential opportunities specifically. I do not focus on job openings or getting hired because I do not want to limit my search to open roles—I know that if the position is not there now, it will be eventually.2,5
I also forward interesting news items to my network. This exercise serves a dual purpose. It provides them with valuable information. Also, it allows me to provide additional context on the topic I am sharing, fostering an opportunity to demonstrate my knowledge of the material.
I recently told a peer that the only activity I hated worse than resume writing was raking leaves. If you have lived in any of the New England States during the Fall Season, you know what I am talking about. Resume crafting is not my idea of fun.
Consistent with what I have read and how I have been professionally coached, everything on the resume is driven to a standard format that should be aesthetically pleasing to the eye while concurrently digestible by scanners utilized in Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).
I work in the financial industry. It might be different if you are in another field (i.e., one that rewards artistic creativity and content creation).
Alternatively, I attempt to distinguish myself using a well-crafted Cover Letter, which we will touch on below.
This should go without saying, but I am going to say it anyway. Ensure there are no spelling errors in your resume and that all the punctuation and formatting is consistent.
I cannot fully tackle the resume topic in this article, but here are some of the bare bones of advice.
- Keywords are important in a resume. The good news is that there are keyword sources that are easily harvested. Keywords are in almost every job posting on the web. If you have the skills required for a position, ensure they migrate to the “Experience” section of your resume.9
- Use a professional font and professionally appropriate margins. Arial or Times New Roman is best with a font size between 10 and 12 points. A one-inch margin on all sides is generally the most appropriate. Do not make someone struggle to read your document, as it will get you tossed on the pile of recycling.9
- Resume examples abound, review some from your industry; you can find templates in Word. Other examples are only a Google search away. I am not crazy about using a Microsoft Word template for this task, but that is only my personal preference. Do what works best for you, but there is a repository of information available online.
- Proofread and Proofread and Proofread. It is probably worthwhile to have a trusted (smart) friend review your document. If you do not have intelligent friends, as they seem scarcer these days, you can utilize several proofreading programs and tools.9
- Your resume is a “work in process.” A diligent job seeker must be willing to make changes and updates as required. Allowing a resume to stand uncorrected or improperly updated can be a significant detriment to your job search.
Cover and Thank You Letters
Although I feel a sense of satisfaction upon completing a well-crafted cover letter, creating one takes a lot of time. I feel a certain amount of pressure to churn these out. That said, they are a necessary evil and can go a long way in distinguishing you from all the other job candidates. Tailor the letter (or email) to the position you want and tactfully explain why you are the man or woman for the position. This is an opportunity to bring forward some of the skills referenced in the resume. You can add some color and context in more of a free-form professional document.
An expert in networking advised me to keep the I, me, and my references to a minimum. The reader understands the cover letter is about you. Too many I, me, and my references could make the reader view you as less of a team player and more of an individual contributor—either could be fine, but without knowing the company culture, don’t harm your chance at earning a position by appearing too self-centered.
Concerning the "Thank You Letter," if you are unmotivated to write yet another one, you need only read this next sentence. "Most HR managers say they consider thank-you messages when deciding who to hire, but they only receive notes from nearly a quarter of applicants, according to a survey by Robert Half."10
Given the information above, you should view a thank you letter as mandatory. From my perspective, it is necessary even if you decide you do not want the position. Writing it solidifies your reputation as a professional and further demonstrates you are a quality individual.
Lastly, if you really want to go above and beyond the call of duty, consider hand-writing the thank you letter and sending it via US mail. Your initial reaction to this strategy might be that this exercise is too time consuming or old fashioned. Still, upon receipt, it sure does generate positive attention—talk about making a statement. The thank you letter is sure to be seen very differently. Brevity is the key.
I have been impressed by the versatility of LinkedIn. I strongly recommend developing a LinkedIn presence. Not only is it another avenue to display your skills and experience, but it is also a fantastic professional networking tool. Like anything else worthwhile, there is a bit of a learning curve, but if you spend some time searching, you will quickly understand that some careers are on a really short street. You will be pleasantly surprised by the connections you already have and how easily and fluidly you can make new connections. You just need to dedicate some time and effort to the task.
LinkedIn has designated super-users that can demonstrate how to utilize LinkedIn more effectively during the job search - additional disclosure - I am not one of them, but I am trying to learn more.
Start by completing as much information about yourself and your relevant experience as you can. After that, keep digging and researching. You can spend some time on my profile to see what I have done with the space LinkedIn provides, but do not forget about my disclaimer at the onset of this article.
Many of the fields in LinkedIn allow for more content than you would intuitively think. For example, in the “intro” section, the headline alone provides for a 220-character limit (including spaces). Since the headline is one of the first things a visitor to your profile will see, you should ensure it is complete and relevant to the position you seek to fill.
Please note, the character count limited on LinkedIn are everchanging. For example, LinkedIn recently increased the character limit in the “About” section to 2,600.
Consider WIFI Thinking
The process stands for What If For Instance.
What if I try something very different—for instance, researching how to open my own business, relocating to where I have always wanted to live, trying another career field altogether, getting the certificate or training needed to expand my skillset in a new way.
Take the opportunity to look at things you never considered a possibility because you were too busy working and making a living. Explore the wild ideas of years ago that now might be possible because of a few extra birthdays and the kids moving on in their own careers.
It may be time to consider an entirely new career with purpose.
The Despair Trap—Do Not Fall Into It
The onset of despair is a weird phenomenon. If you are anything like me, there will be days when you feel as though you may never work again. It is easy to get down. Do not allow the negativity to seep in. Take time to re-review your experience, qualifications, and talent. A good self-refresh on what you bring to a role can be beneficial for myriad reasons.
Conversely, there are other days where you will feel like you have so many irons in the file that you are only a single call away from the next great opportunity. Remember, it only takes one positive connection to turn things around.
Do not despair; it can be a numbers game to a certain extent. Make that additional phone call and send that additional email. There will be days when you do not want to do it but force yourself to make that uphill slog. Reward yourself for a job well done - hit the gym, get some time in the sun, or put aside the search for a bit and enjoy some pleasure reading.
2020 is an unprecedented year in many ways, and organizations continue to recover from their unanticipated hiring freezes earlier in the year. However, some reports suggest the market is thawing out, and rumors of new job offers have begun to materialize.
Do what you need to do to keep moving forward, but ensure you fuel your fire with some fun as well. Otherwise, you will burn out. We all know what Jack Torrance found out the hard way in the Overlook in Colorado:
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
You may want to consider starting or adding to your community volunteer activities. Helping others will make you feel good, and you will meet many great people serving as fellow volunteers.
Consider seeking possible board positions for community not-for-profit groups. Many higher-level leaders offer their time as board members. Seeing you in a similar role could create an opportunity to get to know them better, facilitating introductions to new and exciting opportunities that may have been less apparent.
Keep Tabs on Your Peers and Offer Them Support as They Move Through a Transition Process Too
Before we adjourn, constant reader, let me leave you with one other piece of advice. Many of your peers are swimming in these same choppy waters. Some are enjoying the time and the chance to reinvent their professional lives. Others are really struggling.
Do not forget about those struggling and how valuable a quick call, text, or email can boost their spirits. We all like to commiserate from time to time. Perhaps, if in a given moment, your close acquaintance cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, you can firmly grasp their hand or shoulder and help them find the way.
Live, learn, and pass on!
- Eggers, E. J. (1970, January 27). 2020 Goals and Strategic Execution. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.elitefts.com/education/2020-strategic-execution/
- Johnston, S. – LinkedIn Learning. Find a Job in the Hidden Job Market. https://www.linkedin.com/learning/find-a-job-in-the-hidden-job-market/finding-your-unadvertised-dream-job?u=0
- Clear, James. Atomic Habits. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
- Saunders, E. (2020, November 04). How to carve out 'me time' when work never seems to end. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.fastcompany.com/90572158/how-to-carve-out-me-time-when-work-never-seems-to-end?utm_source=join1440
- Fike, N. K. (n.d.). Vocatus Collaborative. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.vocatuscollaborative.com/
- Ikigai: The Japanese answer to a life of purpose. (2020, July 18). Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://ikigai-living.com/what-is-ikigai/
- Herrera, T. (2019, December 25). 6 Tips to Getting Things Done in 2020. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/24/smarter-living/6-tips-to-getting-things-done-in-2020.html?searchResultPosition=3
- Frisella, A. The MFCEO Project. The Power List https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnjmT2OahWc
- NA. (n.d.). 10 Resume Writing Tips to Help You Land a Job. Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/resumes-cover-letters/10-resume-writing-tips
- Acosta, D. (2020, November 17). How to Write a Thank-You Email After an Interview. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-write-a-thank-you-email-after-an-interview-11605647905
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